July 25, 2014

Share This: When thinking of surveys, it’s important to remember what they actually are: data. Surveys yield data that helps us make informed decisions on […] …read more

The post Surveys: The PR Nightmare Vaccine appeared first on Plum Voice.

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We’re back with another helpful video for Feature Friday! Your call center agents don’t even have to dial a phone number from their phone. Once you’ve configured everything properly, which you can do by following along in this video, you can control outbound settings and train your call center on how to make outbound calls right from their agent panel. Use this video as a manager or call center agent and learn all about outbound dialing!

Call Distributor – Outbound Agent Dialing from Ifbyphone Tutorials on Vimeo.

Have another idea for a video? Tweet us @IfbyphoneCST!

The post Feature Friday: Outbound Agent Dialing appeared first on Ifbyphone.

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Breaking news on a deskEvery advance in computer tech and internet speed drives home the point that multimedia content is here to stay. What started as a luxury in the dial-up days has quickly become a requirement, if you want to attract and retain site visitors. For media content owners that create primarily text-based content, this creates a potential media distribution problem. How do you deal with the constantly evolving demands of the news world, without abandoning what you do best? Reading is far from dead, but it’s also far from the only way to reach people.

Present your content only in text, and you automatically cut off a large portion of potential visitors. Learning disabilities, visual impairments, second-language complications, and literacy issues affect millions, making reading difficult or impossible. Then, there are the multi-taskers, for whom setting aside dedicated reading time simply isn’t an option.

Speech-enabling your news content is a great way to reach those people, and you have a number of options for doing so. Let’s compare automatic text-to-speech technology and pre-recorded content, to see which works best for distribution of media content.

Text to Speech v. Pre-recorded Content: The Pros and Cons

The key point most raise in favor of pre-recorded content is the belief that it sounds more natural. There’s a common misconception that automatic text-to-speech software produces a robotic voice that sounds like your GPS telling you to “turn left… turn left now… u-turn,” but that’s simply not the case with today’s technology. The gap has been narrowed to the point that it’s quite difficult to tell the difference between the voice produced by a quality text-to-speech program and a recorded voice.

  • A great voice-over or broadcast talent may lend some gravity and emotion to your content, but at a considerable cost. You will need to pay that talent, and pay for professional recording or high-quality DIY recording equipment. You’ll also need that voice talent and recording professional to be available at the same time to record the initial content. That’s to say nothing of the edits that are inherent in this sort of process.
  • Since pre-recording takes considerable time logistically, it also blocks you out from quickly posting audio content on breaking situations. With a 24-hour news cycle that’s growing shorter by the day, that’s a real problem.
  • Text to speech, on the other hand, is automatic. You don’t have to track down voice talent or recording professionals, then cross your fingers that your distribution of media content remains on budget. Instead, you can focus on writing great content, and allow the software to handle the entire speech-enabling process.
  • Text to speech also streamlines the process of presenting audio content in multiple languages. If you can write it, text to speech can read it.
  • Loading times are less of an issue now that high-speed internet is so widely available, but big multimedia files from pre-recorded content can still make your site lag. Text to speech eliminates that issue, working seamlessly in the background.
  • Text to speech is also easy for your site visitors to use. With just one click, users can quickly listen to speech-enabled content. If they want to listen later, they can access the content on all manner of mobile devices. You can also choose to speech-enable mobile applications themselves.

Pre-recording still has its place in specific applications like commercials or podcasts, but it’s just not practical for sites with a lot of textual content that needs to be speech-enabled on a continuous basis. Text to speech is more efficient, and it scales to fit tasks of any size. If you want to broaden your distribution of media content and see your site reach more readers, text to speech is an ideal way to go about this.

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Image Credit: Moses Mehraban

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July 24, 2014


Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems are everywhere – when you call the bank, when you use the hotel room telephone, even when you call the Queen! Okay – that last one probably doesn’t happen very often, but I bet the Windsors have an IVR for routing to the appropriate member of royalty. If you’re still a little bit unsure what an IVR is –  you have probably used one when you’ve called a number and heard something similar to this:

“To talk to a human, press 1. To talk to an Owl, press 2.”

This type of service is called an Interactive Voice Response. It provides a solution that would otherwise leave the telephony services of companies and large call centers in complete and utter chaos. By routing people through to the correct humans, IVRs help speed up the process of getting things done.  Even if you’re routing between two separate people, or a thousand call center agents, IVRs are an invaluable part of telephony systems.

What You’ll Learn

With Twilio building an IVR system is as simple as writing software that listens to the digits a caller types into their phone. In this blog post we will create a simple IVR with Django, a popular MVC framework built in Python. We will learn to:

  • Set up the django-twilio library in our Django project
  • Link up a Twilio phone number a Django view
  • Prompt users to enter some digits into their handset
  • Programmatically discover and handle the response based on the input

To get started you will need:

The django-twilio library

A fantastic Twilio community member, Randall Degges, built the django-twilio library to work seamlessly in Django projects. It’s a pretty cool tool and we’ll be using it today.


We’re going to need to start a new Django project for this, so once you have installed Django 1.6 with pip like so:

$ pip install django

run the following terminal command  to set up a Django project:

$ python django-admin.py startproject djtwilio

We’re using the project name djtwilio for this project, but you’re welcome to use your own name. Just remember to substitute djtwilio for your project name throughout the code.

Installing django-twilio can be done with pip through the command line:

$ pip install django-twilio

If you are using Django 1.6, you will also need to install South:

$ pip install South

For those of you unfamiliar with South, it is the de facto database schema management tool for Django. I’d recommend reading the documentation and adding South to the must-have list of libraries you use with Django.

We’ll need to add both of these packages to the list of our installed apps, in the djtwilio/settings.py file of our Django project:

    # Add the new apps here


We’re also adding our account sid and authentication token from Twilio. You can find these tokens on your Twilio account dashboard. An important note: if you’re going to use django-twilio in production, I strongly recommend you do not keep your account tokens in the settings.py file, we’re doing it here to make it easier to debug for this tutorial. Instead, add them as environment variables, django-twilio will search for them automatically for you.

Now we can set up our database:

$ python manage.py syncdb

This will build the database and set up the superuser. Finally, using South, we can build the django-twilio models:

$ python manage.py migrate django_twilio

Django 1.7

If you are using Django 1.7, Django-twilio is now supported. Django 1.7 introduced some major changes to how database schema management is done. You can read more in the release notes. In order to get django-twilio working with Django 1.7 you need to run this command in the terminal:

$ python manage.py migrate

With Django 1.7, you also need to manually create a superuser account with the following terminal command:

$ python manage.py createsuperuser

If any of this configuration does not work properly, don’t forget that the settings.py file in the Github example project will show you how it should be done.

Linking a Twilio phone number to Django View

Now that we have set up django-twilio, let’s use it to create a basic Twilio view that returns some TwiML code. TwiML is Twilio Markup Language, a collection of XML tags that Twilio will magically transform into SMS message and voice call instructions. Django-twilio has been designed to handle all the nitty-gritty of returning XML encoded data; all we have to worry about is what instructions we want to return.

The <Gather> verb

All the magic of IVR systems with Twilio is performed by the <Gather> verb. The Gather verb collects the digits entered by a caller through his or her telephone keypad. Twilio will then submit those digits to the action URL as a HTTP request to the server.

In order to point a Twilio phone number to a Django view we need to:

  • Create the Django view
  • Configure Django’s URL configuration to link the view to a URL
  • Link that URL to the Voice Request URL in our Twilio phone number

Creating the Django view is the easiest bit. In our Django project, we can add views into the default a file called views.py. You will need to create this file and it should be in the same directory (djtwilio) as the urls.py and settings.py files.

You can view the commit for this code in the example project:

from django_twilio.decorators import twilio_view

from twilio.twiml import Response

def gather_digits(request):

    twilio_response = Response()

    with twilio_response.gather(action='https://www.twilio.com/blog/respond/', numDigits=1) as g:
        g.say('Press one to hear a song, two to receive an SMS')
        g.say('Press one to hear a song, two to receive an SMS')

    return twilio_response

Before we continue, let’s decompose what we’ve written here so we understand it all. The first few lines add a decorator to the Django view (just a plain old Python function). The @twilio_view decorator is part of the django-twilio library and correctly formats the requests and responses so you don’t have to. Within the function, we are creating a new response, adding the Gather and Say verbs, and then returning it all back. We’re doing all of this with the Python helper library, which turns the creation of TwiML markup into  lovely pythonic code.

In the gather tag we are setting numDigits to 1. We don’t want to accept any more than one digit for this demo. We’ve said the same thing twice with a pause in between. This is just in case the user doesn’t hear the first time.

We’ll handle the action URL of the gather tag later on, first we need to make our TwiML markup is accessible by linking it up to it’s own URL, otherwise we’d never be able to address it!

In Django, we use the djtwilio/urls.py file (in the same directory as the views.py file that you just created) to set up the URL routing for the application:

from django.conf.urls import patterns, include, url
from django.contrib import admin


urlpatterns = patterns('',
    url(r'^admin/', include(admin.site.urls)),
    # Here we add our Twilio URLs
    url(r'^gather/$', 'djtwilio.views.gather_digits'),

What’s happening here? In Django, we provide a tuple of URL paths that link routes (such as /gather/) to views in our django application. The admin URL is a default for Django, but on the last line of the tuple we add our own URL:

url(r'^gather/$', 'djtwilio.views.gather_digits'),

Remember that based on the naming of your project, ‘djtwilio’ might be different. The example project shows you how your urls.py file should look.

The last step needed is to link this URL to the Voice Request URL on your Twilio phone number:

The URL we want to add needs to point to the publicly addressable URL for your server. Don’t have a server handy? At Twilio we use an awesome tool called NGrok, which allows us to run our local dev server on the web with a publicly addressable link. Using NGrok, we can run our Django server through the command line:

$ python manage.py runserver 0:8000

and in another terminal, we can tell NGrok to route our local 8000 port (the default for Django) out to the web. You can tell NGrok which port to route with a single command line instruction:

$ ./ngrok 8000

If you’re running on a Mac, you’ll need to prepend bash at the beginning of the line.

You can now make a HTTP post request (using cURL or similar) to the URL to see  the TwiML markup we just created:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
    <Gather action="https://www.twilio.com/blog/respond/" numDigits="1">
        <Say>Press one to hear a song, two to receive an SMS</Say>
        <Pause length="1"/>
        <Say>Press one to hear a song, two to receive an SMS</Say>

We should now be able to make a phone call to the number.


The process that happens here should be familiar to anyone who has developed on the Twilio platform before: voice calls reach Twilio, triggering an HTTP POST request to your server. You then respond to this request with a response.

Testing out the IVR system

If we give the Twilio phone number a ring we will be able to hear the response we wrote above (“Press one to hear a song, two to get an SMS message”). If we type in any digit we will hear the dreaded application error sound! The reason for this might be obvious if you’re used to working with Twilio, but if you’re not quite sure our app monitor is a fantastic tool for diagnosing errors like this. Let’s check the error for the previous voice call:

Our app monitor has made a request to the url /respond/ on our server (point 1), which does not exist yet. This has given us an HTTP 404 error (point 2) in response. You can see from the body of the request the page has not been found.

This second URL will be sent a request when the user types in some numbers into their telephone keypad.

Programmatically handling user input

To handle the user input we need to:

  • Create a new view called handle_response that discovers the inputted digits and returns a customised response.
  • Create a new URL in our URL configuration that links to the new handle_response view.

The second view requires a bit more computational logic than the first. Here is the new code in our djtwilio/views.py file, directly under the gather_digits function:

def handle_response(request):

    digits = request.POST.get('Digits', '')
    twilio_response = Response()

&nbsp;    if digits == '1':

    if digits == '2':
        number = request.POST.get('From', '')
        twilio_response.say('A text message is on its way')
        twilio_response.sms('You looking lovely today!', to=number)

    return twilio_response

Let’s run through this line by line and figure out what we’re doing.

First we inspect the request object (provided to use by Django) and return the Digits parameter as a string. We store this in our own variable called digits:

digits = request.POST.get('Digits', '')

The cool stuff happens when we compare the digits variable. If it is equal to 1, we add a <Play> tag to our response with a link to the best theme tune of all time.

if digits == '1':

If the digits variable is equal to 2, we add a <Say> tag and an <Sms> tag to the response.

if digits == '2':
    number = request.POST.get('From', '')
    twilio_response.say('A text message is on its way')
    twilio_response.sms('You look lovely today!', to=number)

Two important things to note in this code:

  1. With voice responses, we use the <Sms> tag and not the <Message> tag to send an SMS message.
  2. We are also inspecting the request object for the From parameter (the number of the person who is calling). We use this in the Sms tag to ensure the message gets sent to the correct number.

Finally we return the response:

return twilio_response

Just like the gather_digits view; django-twilio will handle the formatting of the HTTP response for us because we’ve added the twilio_view decorator above the function name:

def handle_response(request):

The final step is to add a single line of code in our djtwilio/urls.py file on line 10:

from django.conf.urls import patterns, include, url
from django.contrib import admin


urlpatterns = patterns('',
    url(r'^admin/', include(admin.site.urls)),
    # Here we add our Twilio URLs
    url(r'^gather/$', 'djtwilio.views.gather_digits'),
    url(r'^respond/$', 'djtwilio.views.handle_response'),

Like the URL above, this helps Django to route the incoming requests to the correct view.

Testing it out

Now we can try and ring the phone number again.

When we type in our response (by pressing 1 or 2); we will either get a fantastic song played down the phone, or a simple voice message followed by an SMS message.

Taking things further

Now you have a simple IVR telephony system in Django. The entire code for this is available in an example project on Github, with step-by-step commits on how to implement it.

This code is very easy to change. Should we wish to implement a different set of menu options, we can just change the initial <Say> tag and then programmatically handle the response as we’d like.

IVR systems are dead easy with Twilio, for a few ideas on how to use it, here are some examples to get you brain juices flowing:

  • Use IVR to route callers through to specific departments in your company office. 
  • A “choose your own adventure” voice game using IVR to route the player’s choices.
  • Capturing data (such as gas meter readings or date of birth) to easily gather data.
  • Adding a secure pin code to a conference call line.

If you’d like any help with this, or want to ask me questions about Django implementation with Twilio, please email me at paul@twilio.com or get in touch with me on Twitter, I’d love to help. Don’t forget to post your cool IVR projects in the comments below!

Build an IVR system with Twilio and Django

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business modelIt’s important to get a few of the obvious things out of the way first:

1) Willy Wonka = the 70’s Gene Wilder version of the Roald Dahl book

2) I think we can all agree that the first, and most obvious, reason why some of Willy Wonka’s business models should not be your own involve the extremely questionable relocation of the Oompa Loompas from their island home to a chocolate factory in England where they live in isolation and are paid in cocoa beans.

With that out of the way we can talk about the other big thing that Willy Wonka just totally wrong, and that is not talking to customers.

It’s a Two Way Street

Willy Wonka’s example of locking the factory doors and cutting off all communications is a drastic one, but many companies still don’t actively engage with their customers, and when they do, it is often one way: we speak, you listen. Some of these companies even engage in their version of Social Media: they have a Twitter or Facebook account, post semi-regularly, but don’t actually engage with any of the users.

Mr. Wonka was lucky (and some would say a mad genius) that he was able to keep getting people to buy his candy even though he never engaged with them, but unfortunately he is an edge case. A September 2013 Forrestor study showed that a consumer who engaged with a CPG brand online had a 65% probability of preferring it to other similar brands. 65%! By just taking the time to engage with a customer. Willy Wonka was lucky enough to be the market leader by just having a great product, but he could have cornered the market if he had taken the extra step to talk to his customers.

Just taking a few minutes everyday to answer a tweet, follow-up on a Facebook post, or post to a favorite community can create a two-way communication channel that can have a big effect on your business. It allows your customers (and future customers) to see that you want to have a dialogue and that you care what they think, and it allows you to hear directly from customers what they think of your products, and may even result in ideas to make your product better.

Don’t fall into the same trap as Willy Wonka: unlock your gates, talk to your customers, and you will sell more chocolate.


The post Why Willy Wonka Should Not Be Your Business Model appeared first on Ifbyphone.

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July 23, 2014

Google AuthorshipGoogle Authorship began as a way for authors to gain trust and authority for the content they produce on the web. Authors could have their content associated with their Google+ profile along with a photo and byline next to their content in Google search results. The purpose was to help authors validate their content while also helping readers find valuable content on the web. Authorship was also designed to help authors gain more Google+ followers.

A simple way of explaining Authorship is that is enables an author to relate all of their content directly to their personal Google+ profile. Having your content associated with your Google+ page enables authors to build what Google calls Author Rank. Authors could boost their Author Rank by producing quality content, sharing it on Google+ and having their word +1’d by other readers.

When Google first implemented Authorship it was easy for authors to get their picture and byline to appear in search results: having Authorship markup (rel=author markup) on your content and then simply posting the content on your own Google+ page could trigger your photo to appear in search.

However, Google recently announced they would remove all author photos from search results. Google acted swiftly and a few short days after the announcement, all author photos had been removed. Mozcast showed 0% of search results were appearing with author photos by June 29th, 2014 (see Moz graph below).

Google SERP Feature Graph


The removal of author photos, however, does not mean the end of Google Authorship. Author bylines are still being shown in search results and Authorship continues to have influence. Author Rank still exists and highly ranked authors will continue to have their content and bylines displayed prominently by Google.

Google announced that the decision to remove pictures from Authorship was to improve the relevance of search results. The photo was for the searcher, not the search engine. In other words, the Google algorithm never used photos as a way to influence search results. Google’s concern with showing author photos was that the images would skew click through rates. Google doesn’t want to influence you to click on a specific search result just because it has a picture attached to it.

For example, searchers might click on a result with an author who has a great professional photo and looks authoritative but has less knowledge than another author with a blurry picture who actually has higher authority on the topic. It would be in Google’s best interest and the searcher’s best interest to click on the result with higher authority rather than the result with a nice looking image. If you’re choosing an article simply because of a picture of a handsome man, you may as well click on a banner ad.

Do you think the photo would influence whether or not you clicked on post? How much influence do you think author images had on CTR? Also, what would you like to see happen next with Authorship? Leave you thoughts in the comment section.

The post Why Google Removed Photos from Authorship appeared first on Ifbyphone.

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July 22, 2014

Chartio pulls back the curtain behind your company’s data and displays it in a digestible way. When your data is eye-friendly, organized and automated you can pull out key metrics and make informed business decisions faster. If you’re already hours and hours into organizing a thousand row spreadsheet, give yourself a break let the pros handle it before you go table-cell blind.

Now, Chartio supports Twilio as a data source, giving you a one stop shop for your Twilio metrics. In your Chartio dashboard, you can customize which metrics you want insight into, and control the layout of reports.

In addition to Twilio, Chartio also connects to other third party’s metrics,  essential to your business. Let’s say you’re running a Salesforce campaign that’s integrated with Twilio SMS and Voice to boost sales and engagement numbers. Using Chartio, sync your Salesforce and database data to measure how the phone is affecting your Salesforce leads, all in one dashboard.

We’re happy to work with Chartio, a Twilio Technology Partner to give Twilio users a deeper dive into the communication metrics that are essential to their business.

Garrett Langley, Vice President of a fan-engagement mobile app called Experience, says visibility into the company’s SMS usage is essential to measuring their success. “We use Twilio data to monitor total SMS sent and the error rates, and Chartio to keep an eye on that SMS data. For us, SMS is the lifeline of our business, so being able to keep an eye on our SMS success is extremely important.”

Twilio Dashboard

To get started head on over to Chartio and choose Twilio as a datasource, sign in to Twilio and you’re up and running.

Learn more about Chartio and how you can use them to manage your data here

Chartio Adds Twilio As A Data Source, Making Your Twilio Stats Beautiful and Accessible

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big dataThis morning we attended an exciting event in the Loop hosted by the TechAmerica Foundation where we got to talk SMAC: social, mobile, analytics, and Cloud. The purpose of the event was for attendees to learn about companies that have their eye on becoming drivers of cutting edge technology and hear some use cases that examined how real-life organizations are using new tech abilities to do better business.

United Airlines provided some fascinating insight into how they are saving $16 million a year in their transference of “flight bag” information—the 40lb bag of manuals and safety documentation required by the FFAA to be aboard every aircraft—onto iPads. The Cloud has enabled them to save 16 million sheets of paper per year and has cut costs in jet fuel, as airplanes now need only transport a 1.5lb iPad as opposed to that 40lb flight bag, which adds up a lot in the course of a year. Go Cloud!

But what really got our attention was the CIO of Chicago, Brenna Berman, who represents not a company but our entire city and oversees all the various government databases, a steward of public data whose goal under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s encouragement has been to find a way to make data more useful, more transparent, and more accessible to Chicagoans.

Anyone who has been paying attention to hot topics in technology and business knows that “Big Data” is more than a buzzword. Big Data is the thing we’re all struggling to tame: now that we know how to mine it, what do we do with it? What purpose does all this data serve?

According to Berman and Mayor Emanuel, a whole lot.

Data for the People

One of Mayor Emanuel’s promises when he was elected was to help drive Chicago business growth. At the time of his election, Berman says, the open source government data portal in Chicago only contained a paltry 20 data sets. Now the portal boasts nearly 600 data sets, large in size and frequently updated. Residents and journalists access it for research and knowledge, civic developers draw on it for building local apps—one was designed by tapping into education data and allowed parents to find the safest walking route to their child’s school—and actual companies are being built on the data, such as SweepAround, which enables Chicago residents to monitor when street cleaning is scheduled on their block and can move their cars to avoid being ticketed.

Most impressive was Berman’s discussion of an application built by and for Chicagoans called WindyGrid. WindyGrid was built in the weeks leading up to the 2012 NATO Summit as a way for the various city services—police, the fire department, ambulances, etc.—to be able to “see” each other. Prior to the app, all communication between these organizations was done with radio and when it came to coordinating efforts for a specific place—the NATO Summit, Millennium Park for various festivals, the scene of a crime—the only real method of viewing that geographic location was with old-fashioned maps.

With WindyGrid, the city found a way to present a unified view of city operations—past and present—and provided police and fire organizations, etc. access to a specific location’s spatial data, historically and in real-time. For example, using WindyGrid, police called to an address can view all 911 and 311 phone calls made from that location, every permit issued to that address, and more, enabling them to have a more complete view of the information they need to handle the situation.

Another example of the way Chicago is using this kind of data—and WindyGrid, specifically—to improve the city is one that most Chicagoans will identify with strongly, and that’s using it to analyze and improve the way that festivals and parades can impact civic life. With WindyGrid, all key personnel can view all aspects of the location of an event and coordinate more efficiently on street blockage and closure, street cleanup, and more. The best part is that the data is available on the backend for future analysis so these organizations can go in later and analyze how long response time is, how much overtime was paid, how long it takes to clean up after a festival and get roads reopened, etc. so that all future efforts can be tightened and optimized, making the city more efficient than ever.

The Data Dictionary is another thing that Berman cites as a way that Chicago is making their data more accessible and transparent. Government databases are known for being “all over the place,” says Berman, but the dictionary provides an easy access point for navigating those hundreds of aforementioned databases. The software is the most interesting, she says: an open source software known internally as Metalicious which Mayor Emanual has encouraged other cities to use. And they have: in fact, 8 other cities are currently using Metalicious to build their own data dictionaries to follow in the footsteps of what the Windy City has accomplished.

There are still many areas for improvement, Berman says, mentioning all the areas they hope to mine more data—traffic noise, for example, and how to lessen its effects on the rising numbers of Chicagoans who are electing to live downtown—but for now it seems that Chicago is leading the charge when it comes to making the most of new technology. We’re happy to be here.

The post City Analytics: How Chicago Leads the Pack in Big Data appeared first on Ifbyphone.

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Thank you note for some languagesLanguage skills have never been more valuable than they are today, in the classroom, the workplace, and the world at large. The cultural incentive has always been strong for students who choose to learn a new language, but now the financial incentive is catching up. As technology continues to bring our world closer together, the demand for people who speak multiple languages will only rise in the job market.

It’s no surprise, then, that more students than ever are seeking multilingual skills as a key component of their education. The broad appeal of language skills means that these students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and they’ll be seeking to truly learn a second language, not just check off a box on their degree requirements sheet. This creates a unique challenge, but there are some great tools available to help students of all skill levels meet the challenge of learning a new language.

Language Learning Apps, Sites and Software

The list of apps, sites and software available to language learners is long and varied. There’s no one-size-fits-all choice, but there are plenty of great options that will appeal to a variety of learner types. You can find everything from study aids to full-fledged learning programs. New options are constantly emerging, so it’s wise to check often for new and different tools.

  • Apps – Duolingo is currently one of the most popular among free language-learning apps, teaching with a mix of games and translation. For students seeking a study aid rather than a full program, language-to-language dictionaries and similar tools are widely available, and often free.
  • Software – While even for-profit apps tend to come with a reasonable price tag, dedicated language learning software generally requires a more significant investment. If you choose this route, look for programs that offer free trials, functionality on multiple devices, extensive support, and differentiated instruction.
  • Websites – Language learning communities like Livemocha offer a mix of educational software and live help from native language speakers. The community aspect offers a certain comfort level, allowing students to find help quickly even when a professor, tutor, or skilled friend is not available.

Other Language Learning Tools

Unlike the dedicated language learning tools listed above, the following tools weren’t designed solely with language education in mind. That doesn’t make them any less valuable, though.

  • Podcasts and video content are both valuable learning tools, allowing educators to leave lessons or offer help on a topic that learners can then access at any time. Multimedia options are a great way to serve multiple learner types.
  • Anyone who has learned a new language will tell you that learning to read, write, speak, and listen in that language are all unique challenges. Text-to-speech programs are great for bridging some of those gaps, allowing learners to listen to content as they read along, or take their lesson with them and learn by listening on the go.
  • Text to speech won’t do the translating work for students, but it will allow them to listen to the language as spoken by a native speaker. That’s a huge help when a student is trying to become fluent in a new language.
  • Classic study tools like flashcards still hold some value, too, especially for students who grew up using them. Most apps and software, however, offer those same tools in a more efficient, convenient package.

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Image Credit: woodleywonderworks

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July 21, 2014

This post is by Tropo’s Vice President of Customer Experience, Justin Dupree

A very public call between a customer retention rep for Comcast and an AOL employee named Ryan Block is making the rounds, and it is indeed painful to listen to – its obvious there’s something personal riding on the retention of Mr. Block’s business, and it’s fueling the persistent insistence of the rep. To anyone who ever worked in a call center, it’ll be pretty clear what that driving force is – metrics.

A recent Reddit post from someone claiming to be a former Comcast employee – and I say claiming only because it’s Reddit and I have no way to verify – explains it pretty cleanly:

TXMadison: “In retention, the more products you save per customer the better you do, and the more products you disconnect the worst you do (if a customer with a triple play disconnects, you get hit as losing every one of those lines of business, not just losing one customer.) These guys fight tooth and nail to keep every customer because if they don’t meet their numbers they don’t get paid.”

That rep’s entire job is to keep someone from canceling, at all costs, without any actual regard for the caller. It is an entirely statistical situation, one applicable in a general sense to many large company support systems. The representative is judged by a quantitative value — number of customers successfully retained, calls taken in an hour, or how long a ticket takes to close – the actual value varies depending on department and product, but the end result is a judgment based on a number and little else.

Justin Dupree

Using quantitative values changes a very human interaction – someone who needs help and someone (ostensibly) there to provide that help – and makes it cold, like a spreadsheet column showing the number of starving children in a country far away. It’s consistently going to result in representatives that don’t care about solving the actual issue, only about what their metrics are going to show, and that’s frankly idiotic…and unfortunately extremely common.

I have worked in a support capacity for four companies since 1999, those with phone lines and those that functioned via email or chat, for various types of products and various kinds (and quantities) of customers. The first job I had was for a small division of a major corporation and it used metrics to determine performance – how many calls you took, how long you were on the call, how many tickets you solved.

The individuals who consistently performed best in the metrics were typically gaming the system, not solving the most problems, even going so far as hanging up on calls to pad their stats. The individuals who were consistently praised the most by the customers, on the other hand, were those who disregarded the metrics in general and did what was necessary to resolve the actual problem. I was one of the latter, and never wavered from the idea that to do my job to the best of my ability, I had to ensure the problem was fixed before I let go of the call. When the opportunity to develop and lead a support team arose, I knew I had to establish an entire support philosophy based on my previous experience – I had to avoid the pitfalls that result in abysmal customer service in companies the world over. As such, our support team at Tropo follows these four general guidelines:

• Take as much time as needed to resolve an issue
• Work on tickets as a team, not as isolated individuals
• Asking for help, including additional training, is always welcome and encouraged
• Support does not close a ticket without the customer confirming resolution

This approach establishes a strong relationship with our users, and ensures the support experience is consistently a positive one – even when a large or especially difficult problem arises. Unfortunately, many large companies frequently take a product first, customer support last approach; that only works if your product is absolutely flawless, forever. The moment a problem arises and your support infrastructure fails to deliver, it doesn’t matter that you provided the best product – all that matters is when your customer needed you, you weren’t there for them, and that’s what they’re going to remember.

The post Customer Service and Metrics appeared first on Tropo.

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marketing spendSMBs have a lot on their plates. With all the attention on growth and new customer acquisition, some objectives can fall to the wayside. But one thing that should never slip through the cracks is tracking marketing spend, and here’s why.

You can reach target audiences

Most SMBs can’t afford to waste money on advertising to the wrong market. By tracking marketing spend, SMBs can stop guessing at which ads and marketing campaigns are driving money — and which aren’t. Tools as simple as unique trackable phone numbers on all advertising efforts can ensure that you are able to tell which leads are being driven from where. It’s a simple way to track ad effectiveness, enabling you to allocate funds from underperforming marketing initiatives to those that are actually generating leads.

You can negotiate better ad rates

Newspapers, bulletin boards, and other print ad sellers will negotiate better rates for companies who run ads consistently. The problem is, SMBs often flip-flop between two or more publications because they don’t know which performs better, causing their placement opportunities to go down while their prices go up. When you are tracking marketing spend as well as cost per lead, you can run ads consistently in the places that drive new business without wasting money on ads that don’t.

You can turn anyone who answers the phone into a knowledgeable sales professional

For many SMBs, your receptionist, office manager, or whoever is nearest the phone is responsible for converting incoming calls into sales—whether they have sales expertise or not. But with whisper messaging technology, you gain insight into who is calling and why. You’ll know where calls are derived from before you answer so that you can better address and route them.

You can stop losing leads due to response delays

Do you find that you’ve missed out on leads because no one followed up in a timely manner? Stop giving your competitors a spot at the table by responding immediately to all leads. Using call routing tools that ensure you get a sales call no matter where you are stops that gap between the customer’s inquiry and your response.

You can be everywhere and still be at work

Whether it’s meeting with new clients, vendors, attending trade shows, or just taking a much-needed break, you do it all for your SMB. While you can’t afford to stay tied to your desk, you also can’t afford to miss a lead. With the right call management tools, you can forward calls to your cell phone, home phone, or even a colleague’s office so you’ll never miss the opportunity to convert your leads into customers before your competitors do.

SMBs have a lot on their plate, but the right tools can make that full plate a lot easier to manage, and when you realize the importance of tracking marketing spend, it’s a lot better for you in the long run. Want to learn more? Download the Definitive Guide to Voice-Based Marketing Automation now to see how these tools are improving other businesses.


The post 5 Reasons SMBs Should Be Tracking Marketing Spend appeared first on Ifbyphone.

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July 18, 2014

What are you going to do with your summer break? How about joining Twilio on a road trip across Poland? We’ll be traveling from city to city across Poland to Germany with our friends from Babelverse, Startup Safary, HipDial and Contextio this summer and you’re invited.

Poland is exploding as a center for technical knowledge and IT brainpower. We’re hitting the road July 21st and looking to meet you, the local startups, the people building products,the teams and the future of tech in Poland.

Starting in Berlin, Germany, the bus is going to travel in six days to Poznan, Warsaw and Krakow. In each city we’ll be visiting local startups and join their local meet ups and events. Use the hashtag #twiliopl for all your photos, tweets and to contact the road trip team.

Here’s the rundown of where we’ll be:

  • Monday July 21st: Poznan - Hive61 Meetup – 6pm to 9pm

  • Tuesday July 22nd:  Poznan – Out, about and visiting local startups – 10am to 2pm *use #TwilioPl to let us know if you’d like to meetup.

  • Wednesday July 23rd: Warsaw – Solec 44 – 12:30 – 3pm *share your startup experiences and ask anything you’d like to fellow #twiliopl roadtrippers

  • Thursday 24th: Krakow – Hacktory 4: Playing With Reality – 6pm to 11:55pm

  • Friday July 25th: Krakow – Hubraum Krakow – Open Round Table: Startups, Nothing Can Stop You – 1pm to 4pm

  • Saturday July 26th: Berlin – Rainmaking Loft – Welcome Home Dinner – 6pm – 10pm

Check out the full events schedule here
So who’s coming on this Roadtrip?

tonyblankTony Blank – Developer Evangelist at Contextio

jonashuckesteinJonas Huckstein – CEO and Founder of HipDial
jonasdunneJosef Dunne – CEO and Co-founder of Babelverse

maciekMaciek Laskus – CEO and Co-founder of Startup Sarary

lisalangLisa Lang – European Marketing Strategist at Twilio
Say hi to the team by using the hashtag #twiliopl. We’ll see you on the road!

Join Twilio And Friends On Our #TwilioPl Roadtrip Across Poland

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Bad Marketing DataEffective marketing programs begin with tracking all of your marketing activities in order to figure out which are working and which aren’t. Marketing automation provide tools that allow you to track and control a lot of your marketing activities, all from one portal. When used properly, marketing automation platforms like Marketo, Hubspot, Eloqua, and Ifbyphone can give powerful insight into your marketing universe.

Get the Most Out of Your Marketing Automation

The right marketing automation platform can be a very powerful tool for optimizing ROI, but you might as well throw it out the window if you aren’t getting a complete and accurate picture of where your leads are coming from.

When new leads come in, along with the contact information being collected, the source where they originate should also be captured, whether that is organic search, advertising, prospecting, or any other marketing activities. When you get as much information about the lead source as possible; all future communications designed to turn that lead into a customer flow from that original lead source.

Don’t Become a Victim of Bad Data

Powerful marketing automation tools have been developed so that you can track each and every lead back to their very first touch point. Maintaining the integrity of that data can be the difference between outstanding marketing ROI and rendering your marketing efforts useless.

It doesn’t take much to suddenly have bad data show up in your marketing automation tool. It happens with one wrong click or typo. It can then snowball out of control until it’s affecting a large chunk of the data that you rely on everyday to make your marketing decisions.

Without even realizing it a campaign could have a wrong lead source designated, and suddenly your organic search leads start showing up as event leads, your social media leads turn into paid search leads, or your direct leads change to prospecting leads. It doesn’t take very long for a lot of your data to get jumbled and once it does, it’s very hard to get the original data back.

How Do You Prevent Bad Data?

By taking a few simple steps you can ensure that you have great data that you can rely on to support your marketing strategy. Here are some ways we at Ifbyphone keep our data clean and accurate:

  • Don’t let any of your leads slip through the cracks. Each lead comes from somewhere, and it should always be attributed back to its proper source. Google Analytics is a powerful tool that captures leads accurately from a multitude of sources.
  • For leads that are entered manually into your lead management platform, make sure lead source fields are required. This means the lead source is recorded even when the lead comes from outside of your marketing automation tool.
  • Standardize the options for your lead fields in your lead management platform. By doing this, when you run reports on lead sources, the data is easy to consume and digest.
  • Don’t lose the original data. Make sure your lead source fields aren’t being updated or overwritten by another tool in order to preserve data integrity. You want to be able to attribute marketing successes to the original touch point, not the most recent.
  • Make sure you are tracking leads from all of your sources. Online leads are relatively easy to track, but what happens when that lead goes offline and calls your business? Ifbyphone’s next generation call tracking captures every phone lead to make sure you don’t miss valuable lead source data. Integrate call tracking with your web analytics for a complete picture of all your lead sources.

What Comes Next

Once you have a foundation of good, reliable data you can continue improving on your marketing strategy. Decisions on where to spend your marketing dollars can easily be supported when you have the lead source data to back it up.

Only with clean data that is capturing leads from every source can you make quality marketing decisions for your company. Want to learn more about why tracking phone leads gives you better marketing data? Check out this white paper, Tracking Phone Leads: The Missing Piece of Marketing Automation.

The post Don’t Make Marketing Decisions Based on Bad Data appeared first on Ifbyphone.

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July 17, 2014

joshDuring presidential elections, you’ll see all sorts of campaigns urging you to “Rock The Vote,” “Get Out And Vote” and (more aggressively) “Vote or Die!” For eight years, a small county was unable to rock, count, or register their citizens’ votes efficiently.

The thorn in this county’s democratic process was their phone system. Every election season, poor communication crippled the county’s ability to register voters, confirm voters’ IDs and report back polling station statistics. During peak voting hours, citizens dialing in to get information about where they could vote wouldn’t be able to reach an operator, or would be told the number was disconnected.

To make the voting process smoother for Florida officials and residents, Acuity Technologies stepped in to clean up the telecom-mess using Twilio. Josh Anderson(pictured right), CEO and Founder of Acuity Technologies, is a native Floridian. More importantly, he’s a problem solver.

Josh was challenged with uncovering the failure points across a call center reaching 350 of voting stations, piping out thousands of calls to one telecom provider and one carrier. With only 4-lines of Twilio code he was able to solve the county’s telecom woes, save them thousands of dollars, save voters time, and bridge the communication gap between carrier and telecom provider.

The Problem At Hand

The first step in fixing Florida’s communication problem was to identify the key parts in play, and the role they served:

    • 350 Polling Stations – The county has a network of polling stations, all of which have the ability to dial into a call center where agents record key metrics on election day, verify votes, and verify voter IDs.
    • The Telecom Provider – the Telecom Provider (a third party vendor who will also remain anonymous) was responsible to provide the SIP trunks that would take the calls, and route them to the carrier so they could be initiated.
    • The Carrier- The Carrier takes the Telecom Provider’s volume of SIP Trunks, and SIP Requests, and makes sure each call is successful.

The second step in solving the problem was dropping the hammer. Josh asked the county’s Telecom Provider to run a hammer test, but was unceremoniously denied. Instead, he wrote four short lines of Twilio code, and had a hammer test ready to run in minutes.

Dropping The Hammer: The Load Test Of Truth

The goal of the” hammer test” was to load the entire call center with it’s maximum volume of calls for 14 hours (the average high traffic duration during election season), identify the points of failure, and fix them. It was a game-day drill for Josh and the Florida County.

Josh’s Twilio script called the 180 SIP Trunk lines in succession, and placed them in a Twilio Queue. Once all 180 lines were connected, Josh hung a few up and called them right back. The call flow was designed to mimic the waves of calls on election day.

The total cost of this hammer test: less than $20.

The Red Flag, and Miscommunication

Minutes into the hammer test, a red flag popped up, and then another, and another. The Telecom Provider was dropping calls and returning an incorrect 404 error, essentially saying that Telecom Provider doesn’t recognize it’s endpoint (The Carrier) and can’t initiate the call. But, the Telecom Provider did know it’s endpoints – it had already called them during the test.

Josh looked at his Twilio Account portal and confirmed he had the right endpoints. The next step was figuring out the real problem, mistakenly labeled as a 404. At this point, the Twilio hammer test began to serve the role of telecom detective as well as load tester.

Reaching The Fire Alarm: How To Trigger A Fail Safe

The_Big_Red_Button_(3085157011)When the Telecom Provider’s lines were jammed, the Carrier was supposed to initiate a fail-safe protocol to keep calls going. But, when Josh jammed the lines, the failsafe never triggered, he only got 404s.

It turned out the real problem was a discrepancy between the Telecom’s promised number of SIP trunks, and their number of provided SIP trunks. The Telecom Provider had 120 SIP Trunks, The Carrier had a 125. With this set up, the Telecom Provider was incapable hitting the call threshold to trigger The Carrier’s failsafe switch. When it was overloaded, it spat out 404s instead of hitting the fail-safe.

Josh could load all of the Telecom Providers SIP Trunks, but that still wasn’t enough to flip the Carrier’s failsafe. Imagine a child that’s too short to pull the fire alarm — this was the equivalent in telecom terms.

Josh worked out the capacity issues with the Telecom Provider to make they could successfully work with The Carrier. Using Twilio Queue, he re-ran the hammer test a second time and kept a packed Queue going for 30 minutes with no errors.

Playing telecom detective is no easy task. But using Twilio, Josh’s task was much more manageable. With the new voting communication system in place, Josh hopes citizens can vote with confidence, and get their election day questions answered easily.

How A Load Test Saved A Florida County Election Call Center In 4-lines of Code

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We’re back for part two of the blog series about Chicago coding bootcamp Anyone Can Learn to Code! (If you’re just joining us, part one is here for you to catch up on.) ACLTC founder, Jay Wengrow, and his small class of aspiring coders are about halfway through the 12-week program, so I thought I’d trot back to 1871 where the bootcamp is held and check in on their progress. Just like my first experience with ACLTC, I was not disappointed.

At around the halfway point in the program, Wengrow’s students are neck-deep in programming and APIs and just in the couple of hours I spent in the classroom, I watch them build a virtual zoo, facing down a screen of intimidating code and adding a series of visual objects, audio files, and text to create a collection of animals complete with sound effects and species information. What had been a blank screen only minutes before transforms into a website with different layers of functionality.

jay wengrow

Throughout the exercise, Wengrow walks around the room, offering advice here and answering questions there. The atmosphere is one of relaxed nerdiness: despite the complex tasks the class is being asked to perform, jokes are common and the students often lean over to look at one another’s screens, working together to apply the knowledge Wengrow has filled their heads with.

The students have varied stories of what brought them to Anyone Can Learn to Code, which is perhaps the most fascinating part of the program. As mentioned in part one of this blog series, one of the most unique aspects of ACLTC is the fact that the class meets on evenings and weekends, facilitating working professionals to attend the workshop and gain a new skillset without requiring them to quit their jobs. I wanted to learn more about the kind of students the program is attracting so I sat down with two of Wengrow’s participants and talked to them about their experience so far.

Oscar Cisneros, Jr. is a native Chicagoan who grew up on the North Side and was driving for Sidecar when Chicago’s tech community appeared on his radar. Before, he’d been working as a revenue analyst for a travel agency and had reached a stage in his career where he was wondering what was next. Interestingly enough, it was by working with Sidecar—a technology company!—that Cisneros was first inspired to begin looking within the tech community for his next career. He happened to be driving a recruiter for a technology company, who opened Cisneros’s eyes to the possibilities that lay in coding. Cisneros kept his eye out on sites like Built in Chicago for training opportunities, where he came across Anyone Can Learn to Code.


“I’ve found that there’s power in coding,” Cisneros says of what has made ACLTC such a worthwhile opportunity. “You can create things that may eventually change the world or how people experience the world.”

And that may eventually change Chicago, he adds, explaining that he’s always loved Chicago and that he hoped in order to find a career in technology—and hopefully start his own business—he wouldn’t be forced to move to a an area more well-known for its tech community.

“Chicago is like the Silicon City,” Cisneros says confidently. “There are so many opportunities—like Anyone Can Learn to Code—that are making the city so exciting, and elevating it in new ways.”

He points to 1871 as an example of the tech community rising to meet what could be an even more exciting business landscape. The space, he says, reflects what people like Wengrow are trying to accomplish: it’s open, thriving, and collaborative; all the things that the growing tech community needs to be taken to the next level, and Cisneros says he feels privileged to be among the first to join ACLTC as he moves toward his goal of becoming a tech entrepreneur.

Mary Liz Lehman, another student in the bootcamp, has a different story. She’s been an entrepreneur for the last seven years, running multiple retail boutiques as well as a styling firm called Barlow Lehman. As Lehman looked toward the future, she toyed with the idea of building a B2B tech startup that could solve real business problems for other business owners. After talking to different developers she became more and more convinced that in order to truly understand how it all worked, she needed to have some knowledge of her own.


“We use technology every day but we don’t understand how it works,” Lehman says, citing her desire to learn valuable new skills in a changing world as a reason for joining ACLTC. “After having been CEO of a company, I knew firsthand how frustrating it is for the technology available to me to be painful to use. I thought, ‘It doesn’t have to be this painful. These tools can be better at solving problems.’ It’s amazing to think that when I finish this bootcamp, Barlow Lehman will have a better website. And I will have built it.”

It’s that ability to take technology into their own hands that has attracted Cisneros, Lehman, and the other bootcamp attendees.

“Chicago is becoming a hotbed for technology,” Lehman says, “and we’re right in the midst of it. Before, people who wanted to build their own tech startups needed to move, and I was even told to move to Silicon Valley to do what I want to do. But the more of these bootcamps that we have and the more exposure people get to this kind of knowledge, the more it becomes possible that we can build our own powerful community right here in Chicago.”

Lehman goes on to insist that the kind of experience she and her classmates are getting at ACLTC should be made part of the core curriculum in schools.

“I have a five-year old daughter, and I want her to be able to use and understand this stuff. Learning coding and programming is going to become even more important and it would be great if I could use this knowledge to help her. I want to show her why it’s worth learning.”

rsz_photo_5 (1)

She won’t get any argument from Wengrow, who is passionate about starting now to create a pipeline of brains to fill what is known to be a disheartening talent gap in technology. Businesses in all cities struggle to recruit people with the necessary knowledge to fill open roles, which perhaps is a result of what could be considered a fast progression of technology as a whole. Technology has evolved very quickly, where attitudes toward careers in technology have moved more slowly. The result is a shortage of qualified (and interested) candidates, and a field lacking in a continuous flow of talent. However, Wengrow believes that with the right kind of exposure and the right attitude toward teaching tech newcomers, we can add to an already thriving community and create the coders of the future. With students like Cisneros and Lehman in the fold—hell-bent on becoming masters of their own technology destinies—he is certainly headed in the right direction.

We’ll be back with part 3 soon! In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Anyone Can Learn to Code, visit the website here.

The post Chicago Tech Community: Anyone Can Learn to Code, Part 2 appeared first on Ifbyphone.

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July 16, 2014

Share This: No one likes waiting on hold, especially for mundane tasks like checking an account balance. Here’s a SlideShare deck with five ways to […] …read more

The post Slideshare: Eliminate Call Queues & Never Put Customers On Hold appeared first on Plum Voice.

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happy employeesWhen business owners think about how they’re going to take their company to the next level, many factors enter into the equation: market share, revenue, product launches, and marketing, to name a few. There are a multitude of other things that you can add or change in your strategy that can impact your business—positively or negatively—but there is one that is often overlooked: employees.

Customer Service: From First Impression to Long-Term Trust

As the leader of an organization, many of the things on your plate involve keeping the business running, and generally, you’re not the one on the phone with customers and prospects on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s the receptionist answering the phone or the service and support reps handling customer issues, the people that interact with your customers the most are your employees.

That’s why when you hire people to answer your phones, you’re entrusting them with more than just doing their jobs: you’re entrusting them with the company itself. A first impression means everything and it’s hard to change. Everyone knows that a consumer is 2x more likely to share a bad customer service experience than a good one, but even more dramatic is this statistic from HelpScout: 86% of customers take their business elsewhere because of poor customer service. That encompasses more than just the first impression: it extends to how your business handles customers during every single interaction. Think about the standards you set for the talent you recruit: can you trust them with your customers’ first impression of your business? Can you trust them with taking care of your customers over the long run?

Sales and Marketing: Passion, Knowledge, and Dedication

It’s not just the customer service team that represents the company. The way your sales team handles leads and prospects contributes to the image of your business as well. Are they sincere? Are they friendly? But more importantly: do they believe in your product? This is often something that is overlooked by a lot of companies who are focused on the past work experience of a potential new hire instead of the passion they have for your product or service. If you want to have a sales team that works hard and does everything it takes to sell, then you need to ensure that you’re hiring people who truly believe and stand behind the product or service you’re selling. They need that passion. How can they convince a prospect that they need to buy your product or service if they don’t believe it themselves?

The same goes for marketing. Do they believe? Is the messaging they create built on buzzwords, or is it based on true-blue dedication to the product? Effective marketing is that which communicates a benefit. How can a marketing team that doesn’t believe in your product or service create the fervor you need to pull away from the competition?

There’s product knowledge too, of course. One of the things that many businesses don’t take seriously enough when it comes to new hires is training. If you don’t think you want to invest the time putting each and every hire through a training schedule, think again. Only when an employee fully and thoroughly understands a product or service and all its offerings can they market or sell it properly.

The Importance of Hiring Right

Every business has standards that they apply to candidates they are interviewing, and it’s not always an easy process. Proper screening, interviewing, and careful analysis of feedback are usually time-consuming parts of the interview process. But time-consuming or not, there is nothing more important. The right people can carry your business to new heights. The wrong people can sink the ship. So with this huge importance of hiring right, how can you be sure? Here are some tips we can offer based on our customer service successes as well as having some of the happiest employees in the nation:

  • Let your star employees interview candidates. And we don’t just mean management and team leads. Let your actual, everyday, phone-answering employees sit down with candidates and offer you their advice on whether they think the applicant would be a good fit. After all, they have proven to be good hires and can offer inside insight into what makes a lasting employee. Besides, they’re the ones that will have to work with the new hire every day. If they can assist in hiring someone they’ll get along with, you’ll have happier employees, meaning you’ll have employees who are more likely to dedicate themselves to your product—and your customers.
  • Institute a week (or longer) of training. Depending on how complicated your product or service is, this time may vary. But it cannot be emphasized enough: do not skimp on training. You cannot expect your employees to successfully market, sell, and troubleshoot your product if they don’t have a full understanding of its ins and outs. Bite the bullet. Spend the time on your talent and reap the long-term benefits.
  • Hire SWANs. One of the things that has served Ifbyphone well is our SWAN policy. We only hire candidates that live up to the following qualifications: they must be Smart, they must Work hard, they must be Ambitious, and most importantly, they must be Nice. Niceness is often the overlooked ingredient for star employees, so pay special attention to that one. An all-star sales rep can drag an entire team down when he has a bad attitude.

It can’t be overstated: your employees are the single most valuable investment you will make in your company, so choose your talent wisely. Do you have any special hiring practices that you institute to hire the best of the best? Leave a comment below!

The post How Your Employees Can Make or Break Your Business appeared first on Ifbyphone.

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July 15, 2014


Last month the #CXRoadshow pulled into San Francisco for it’s final stop. Alongside Google, LiveOps and a room full of like-minded software people, Jeff Lawson announced the launch of Twilio CX For Chromebooks, a powerful communications platform packed inside a Chromebook.

We met a whole host of folks in Atlanta, London, Chicago, New York, Santa Monica and San Francisco, all with a mission to improve their business by making their customers happy.  Take a look back at the talks, pictures and announcements from the #CXRoadshow. We’ll see you on the road soon.

Introducing Twilio CX For Chromebooks


Jeff Lawson’s #CXRoadshow Keynote


Picture Recap

Learn more about Twilio CX For Chromebooks here

#CXRoadshow Wrap Up: Watch Jeff Lawson’s Keynote, Twilio CX For Chromebooks Announcement

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Following the release of BigHand and Olympus’ new offering,  BigHand today said that it is including  speech recognition capabilities within its securely hosted dictation solution as part of the companies’ bundled package. The BigHand speech recognition functionality features Nuance’s  Dragon NaturallySpeaking server SDK, hosted in BigHand’s secure cloud infrastructure and embedded within the BigHand Professional Edition technology. […]

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awkward phone conversationsEveryone has had at least one awkward phone conversation that makes them wish they could turn their phone into a device that would teleport them into another galaxy, and business calls are no exception. Some conversations are just plain awkward and cannot be avoided, but here are a few ways you can use voice-based marketing automation (VBMA) to make them less painful.

Awkward Conversation: The Collection Call

Whether you’re a collections agency or a dental office dealing with past-due patients, calling someone to tell them they owe you money is never fun. In fact, it can get downright awkward.

How You Can Avoid It: Voice Broadcasts

Want to avoid having to call your customers and ask them to pay up? Instead, send a voice broadcast. You can record the exact message you would like (in your voice, so it’s still personal) and schedule the message to be sent at a time of your choosing. The best part is you can automate these kinds of messages for all of your past-due customers, saving you precious time and energy. Minus the awkwardness.

Awkward Conversation: Not Knowing Who’s Calling You

For salespeople, it’s important to always know who’s on the line when you take a call. This is important for any department, really, but especially sales, when a potential sale rests on the rapport you’ve built with a prospect. What’s more awkward than answering the phone and groping around in your brain for which Chris or Cindy is on the line?

How You Can Avoid It: Call Tracking/Whisper Messages

Call tracking is the best tool out there for always knowing who is on the phone and where they’re calling from. A good call tracking tool integrates with your CRM so that when your phone rings, the contact’s name, company, and account details are at your fingertips, avoiding the awkwardness of trying to figure out who you’re talking to and what company they’re with. You can also see notes that you made based on your last conversation with them, and can have that information “whispered” to you before you take the call, ensuring that you’re fully prepared and out of the awkward zone.

Awkward Conversation: Complaining About the Service

When it comes to honest and sincere feedback about the service they received when calling your business, customers aren’t always comfortable with the idea of sharing it with a human being. They don’t want to be mean, and sometimes if the complaint is of a personal nature, having a conversation about it can be pretty awkward.

How You Can Avoid it: IVR

Help your customers avoid this awkward conversation by giving them the option of filling out a survey via IVR (interactive voice response) instead of talking to a customer support person. It’s easy, efficient, and decidedly un-awkward. What more can you ask for?

Awkward Conversation: Making A Call About An Appointment—That Your Customer Forgot About

Whether your business is in the medical field and involves patients remembering (or not) their appointments or home delivery and involves customers being home when their order is delivered, there is always the potential for awkwardness when you call a customer asking if they’re running late…and they actually completely forgot about the appointment. Your time has been wasted, and now you need to reschedule. But they’re a customer. You can’t be mad at them! …awkward.

How You Can Avoid It: Voice Broadcasts

Here’s another way voice broadcasts can save you from awkwardness. Instead of giving your customer the opportunity to completely forget about their appointment, schedule a voice broadcasts to go out the day or week before their appointment to remind them. That way your time isn’t wasted, neither is theirs, and all awkward phone conversations that revolve around “Well, you said you’d be here…but you’re not” are eliminated. You can also give them a chance to reschedule their appointment…….

Awkward Conversation: Angry Customers Waiting On Hold

Is there anything more awkward than a customer hurling a stream of obscenities at you because they’ve either been on hold for too long or they’ve been transferred too many times?

How You Can Avoid It: Intelligent Call Routing

Don’t leave your customers to languish on the line: you just open yourself up to the awkwardness of having to listen while they insult you. Hold-Time Rage is real! Avoid it by using intelligent call routing, which enables calls to be sent directly to the person or department most appropriate for the call. Obscenities are circumvented and everyone is happier. And less awkward.

Want to learn more about how to move your business closer to being awkward-free? Download this massive free white paper that will tell you everything you need to know, The Definitive Guide to Voice-Based Marketing Automation.


The post 5 Awkward Phone Conversations That Could Have Been Avoided With VBMA appeared first on Ifbyphone.

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July 14, 2014

XinChiIn May of 2012, Xin Chi (pictured right)was held at knifepoint and thrown into the trunk of her car by kidnappers while running errands in a mall in Kuala Lumpur. After narrowly escaping, she dedicated herself to finding a way to protect women in their day to day life.

Months after her kidnapping attempt, Xin Chi founded WatchOverMe, a mobile watchdog app with over 140,000 users, dedicated to keeping men and women safe through proactive alerts.

The first incarnation of WatchOverMe served as a personal bodyguard to alert family, friends and authorities when you’re in danger. Now, Xin and her team are focusing on a more proactive approach — steering users clear of dangers they didn’t know were there.

The Meteoric Rise Of WatchOverMe

With the help of co-founder James Khoo, Xin launched the WatchOverMe mobile app in October of 2012.  WatchOverMe gives users a discreet way to protect themselves using something they’ll never leave the house without–their phones. For a watchdog, WatchOverMe draws little attention. You can keep the app running with your phone in your pocket, purse or backpack.

Here’s how the app works: users set a time duration for events like shopping or walking home alone. If they don’t check in and mark the event as complete when the time is up, the app starts tracking their location via GPS and alerts family and police via Twilio SMS.

Within months of their launch, the app spread like wildfire.

WatchOverMe was the most downloaded app in the Malaysian iTunes app store (beating out Waze, Twitter, Instragram, Skype and Facebook). It was the second most downloaded app in Singapore and 10th in Australia.


The Expansion: From Reactive to Proactive

Xin Chi heard countless stories from users detailing how WatchOverMe helped them get out of dangerous situations. But, she wanted the app to go one step further and help users avoid danger altogether. But how do you accurately predict danger before it happens? And how do you prevent it? WatchOverMe found the answer in video recording and data mining.

The Power of Video

screen568x568Xin Chi recalls a review a user submitted in the app store. “She said she was walking home and when someone tried to attack her,” Xin says the user pulled out her phone, shook it, triggered WatchOverMe’s video recording and told her attacker that the police know who he is now. The attacker ran away before she was harmed.”

Xin Chi hopes that users never have to use the app’s new emergency video recording feature. But, in the heat of an emergency, video can be a powerful tool.

It’s unlikely you’ll have the time or clarity to enter your phone’s unlock code, open an app, and press record when you’re in danger. WatchOverMe lets you trigger video recording by simply shaking your phone. The video you record automatically uploads to the app’s remote server and can be used help find you, or identify your attackers.

Preventing Danger With Data

To prevent users from getting it the type of situation where they’d have to use an emergency video feature, WatchOverMe began a long and arduous data hunt. The team found the data they needed to build their proactive app feature. But, the data was static and scattered, like a string of islands. To make the data useful to users, they had to connect the islands and pull it all together into their app. The team scraped crime reports, crime statistics, crime maps and even Twitter hashtags to get the insight they needed.

Now WatchOverMe can alert you via push notification or text when you’re walking into an area you should avoid. If the worst case scenario happens, you can rely on the app to pinpoint your location and alert authorities.

In just two short years, Xin Chi and her team built an app to give users the power of personal safety. In building the app, Xin Chi regained her own sense of personal safety that she lost in 2012. It’s something that she’s committing to protecting for herself and for her growing base of users.

Read WatchOverMe’s feature story in FastCo here and learn more about how organizations like Thorn are using SMS to fight human trafficking here

WatchOverMe: The Mobile Watchdog App, Protecting Over 140k Users With Twilio SMS

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realtor salesIn the real estate business, buyers may not always know what they want when they look at a property. Because buying a house, a building, or even a vacant lot is a significant purchase, most buyers will weigh their options and consider many factors before making a decision.

For the realtor, this can mean there may be multiple viewings of the same property, long conversations about the price and amenities, or buyers needing friendly nudges when they get cold feet before making a move.

Realtors must therefore have a few marketing strategies up their sleeves that aid in the nurturing of these valuable, time-consuming relationships. Making a major decision like buying a house can be unnerving for even the most seasoned of investors. Real estate leads, depending on the level of customer service, can quickly turn into a financial windfall or, just as fast, completely disappear. Realtors should work to keep their marketing initiatives as personalized as possible to encourage conversation and increase client satisfaction during the process.

The latest voice-based marketing automation technologies work with the phone to not only help create opportunities to communicate with indecisive or potentially long-term clients, but also keep them abreast of pertinent information throughout the sales process. Here are two specific tools realtors have reported great success with:

Call Routing

Realtors are in the business of not only helping each client find that perfect property the first time, but also nurturing a strong and trusting relationship. Realtors need to build long-term client pools that grow through multichannel and word-of-mouth marketing. The best way to nurture a new or existing client is to make them feel special and valued, as if no other client exists.

A simple way to prevent poor service or communications from messing up a nurture campaign is to deploy a call routing platform that intercepts all inbound calls and directs them to the appropriate endpoint quickly and efficiently. Realtors use call routing to ensure calls from listings get sent to the right agent, no matter where they are (at the office, at home, in the car, at a showing).

You can also enable call routing to “whisper” info about where the call is coming from so agents can decide who gets it. Some clients may call a realtors office with a very specific request in mind, while others are just feeling out the market or toying with the idea of buying or selling. Intelligent call routing can lead and filter each caller based on their unique needs so the best resources are made available to them from the start. This ensures the relationship starts off on the right foot.

Voice Broadcasting

Realtors are always on the move and must have their phones by their side in case a buying/selling decision arises. Likewise, the phone plays a key role in communicating with a client as quickly as possible when a new opportunity arises and decisions need to be made quickly: you can’t send an email and hope for the best. Realtors must find their clients and keep the ball rolling, and the best way to reach them is almost always via the phone.

A valuable voice-based marketing automation tool is the voice broadcast, which allows a realtor to improve client service and communications with interactive notifications via the phone. Realtors can create pre-recorded phone messages or launch an interactive IVR to disseminate information to a large population of recipients at once. Because clients expect realtors to offer personalized services, a mass email will have less of an impact than a direct phone message on nurturing a relationship.

The voice broadcasts can contain a wide variety of information and be personalized to the recipient. Voice broadcasts can be used to automate phone messages for appointment reminders, promotions, or updates on property listings. If the voice broadcast phone call is picked up by a person, one message will play with options to respond. When paired with an interactive IVR, the voice broadcast message can offer recipients prompts that lead them back to the intelligent call routing for access to live agents. If the voice broadcast encounters a voicemail box, a more appropriate message will be left.

To learn more about call tracking in strategic real estate campaigns, check out our guide to growing your brokerage with the phone.

The post How Realtors Are Using Call Routing and Drip Call Campaigns to Close More Sales appeared first on Ifbyphone.

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Last updated: July 26, 2014 05:01 PM All times are UTC.
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